Manchester United play Liverpool in the Premier League on Monday night. United will win by a goal. Or maybe by two.
This will happen because of a number of things:
1. Erik ten Hag brought the players in on their day off last weekend. He did this because United lost 4-0 to Brentford. Word has been leaked to the press that he ran the silage out of them as punishment for forgetting to run during the Brentford match. This is the kind of uncompromising treatment of grown men that immediately transforms them into world-beaters.
2. United will field a new team to the one that played against Brentford. This will include the much-fêted “wholesale changes” that are also transformative of a team. Among the players dropped will be Ronaldo (too old), Harry Maguire (too lost), Luke Shaw (too lazy), Bruno (too whiny and over-rated), De Gea (can’t kick the ball), McFred (too everything), Marcus Rashford (too charitable), Jadon Sancho (may as well), Malacia and Martinez (too small), Diogo Dalot (too nice). Dropping all 12 makes sense.
3. In replacing them, Ten Hag will stick to the club’s proud tradition of playing with a load of young players. Because if they’re good enough they’re old enough. And they have the club in their DNA. Which means they care more than the others. And caring more means they will try harder. And once you try harder, everything will work out fine. Always.
4. But just in case “always” doesn’t include next Monday night in the early stages, or if the young players run out of puff, Erik ten Hag will revert at half-time to bringing in a few more physical lads. As well as trying harder, these players will get stuck into Liverpool. It will be only marginally short of being a re-enactment of the Battle of the Somme. And although this isn’t really “the United way”, it will get the fans behind the team and restore pride. And it might also add to Liverpool’s injury list which is long and winding. And it’ll wind up Saint Jurgen of Klopp. Who should be captured and made stay in Manchester and take over.
5. What will also transform Manchester United before Monday night is the signing of Antony Rabiot-de Jong. He will be put immediately into the team and will play in goals. With two of the Glazers in the full-back positions.
6. The bottom line is that this win over Liverpool will be evidence that Erik ten Hag has adapted quickly to the Premier League, that he has won the players over to his methods, that the club is rebooting, that although there is a long way still to go to restore the club to the very top of English football, it is now clear that they are on the right track. It may only be 90 minutes but the evidence is clearcut. In fact, it’s definitive.
7. People on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, on talk radio, and writing newspaper columns on the Internet will completely agree with this.
8. People on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, on talk radio, and writing newspaper columns on the Internet will completely disagree with this.
9. Everyone’s attention will immediately turn to the absolutely crucial, must-win match that Manchester United will play away to Southampton the following weekend.
10. If Manchester United do not then beat Southampton Erik ten Haag should be fired.
This prediction of a Manchester United victory over Liverpool carries a fairly serious health warning which relates to events that happened 20 or more years ago.
In the early 2000s I wrote on Gaelic football and hurling for ‘Village’ magazine, which had been founded and was edited by Vincent Browne. During the inter-county season (which extended from January to the end of September) it was part of my job to predict the following weekend’s results. There is no need to fully rehearse here the scale of my failures, except to say they were many and repeated and very enjoyable for friends and family.
Words like “clueless” were used. Some readers took it personally and presumed that I filled with bias against their county or their province. That’s how wrong I managed to be. And, in fairness, like every human being I am filled with likes and dislikes, have been coloured by past experiences, and am prone to taking a set against something for not altogether rational reasons.
One week, while I was away on holidays, Vincent got another journalist to compare my prediction success rate against that of the main writers on the national papers at the time. ‘Village’ published the results of this comparison in place of my column in that week. I was so far behind the others that I was basically lapped.
In passing, I should note that the most successful predictor of results was Kieran Shannon. Up sitting at the top of the class, basking in the glory of being right again and again. Which is not a good thing for any man. As Graeme Souness would say.
What is the point of all this? It is only a small one and it is that the best thing about the Premier League is the pantomime and the sheer scale of the magnificent nonsense that it allows people to indulge in.
It is the perfect platform for spouting top-of-the-head opinions where it doesn’t matter if there are ridiculous internal contradictions. Especially when you know you can change your mind in the next breath. And when your opinions will never be tested. It’s the absurdity that makes it all so compelling.
So this prediction of Manchester United beating Liverpool? Probably 3-1. A demolition, with a late consolation goal for Liverpool. United duly “leapfrog” Liverpool. The beginning of a long unbeaten run. By the time the league takes a break for the World Cup, United will be neck-and-neck with City. And judging who might come out on top will be like trying to judge who held on longer in the handshake, Conté or Tuchel. As for what might really happen? You may ask Kieran Shannon.